By John Wiebe
Sometimes magic happens. It can’t be called up at will. It can’t be insisted upon. It can’t be foretold. It just happens.
Magic happened on Friday evening in Abbotsford. The audience at the opening night of the Valley
Concert Society series responded with enthusiastic applause to the performance of the Minguet Quartett and their guest, the pianist Andreas Klein. But that’s not magic. Enthusiastic applause happens often. Something greater happened here.
It could have been very different. Things were going sideways.
The German quartet and Klein have been touring North America with a program that pays homage to the Canadian musical legend Glenn Gould. It is an important career opportunity for these musicians. But the second violinist Annette Reisinger is far enough along in a pregnancy that she is not allowed to fly.
Substituting a player in a string quartet is a risk. Chamber groups work for years at developing a unified voice. Even a highly skilled musician may not blend with sound that the group has honed over time or match the split-second timing that has been rehearsed through countless hours. But the group does their homework and finds a marvelous replacement in the person of Rebecca Hennemann. She is talented, and there is enough time to prepare well for the tour.
Then disaster strikes. Aroa Sorin, the Romanian-born violist, is denied a visa to enter Canada from the U.S. where the tour is well under way. Now there are mere days for the group to find a way to fulfill their contractual obligation to the Valley Concert Society in Abbotsford.
In casting about to solve their problem, their minds come back repeatedly to the most difficult piece on the program, the String Quartet by Glenn Gould. It is not only difficult, but is rarely performed. There is one group in Canada, however, that has performed and recorded it — the Alcan Quartet from Quebec. A phone call finds that violist Luc Beauchemin is able and willing to meet the group in Abbotsford. The quartet is thrilled with their ability to find such a distinguished replacement.
But then reality sets in. There will be no time to rehearse except for the pre-concert run-through at the performance venue. There will be no time to make changes if things don’t work out. It is better to cut the Gould string quartet from the program and replace it with something safer, something that has been recently performed by both groups. Fortunately there is an ideal option with the Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor. The composer was already in the program, and the music fit perfectly into the evening’s theme.
Luc Beauchemin arrives in Vancouver on Thursday evening. He takes a hotel and waits for the quartet. They arrive on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The musicians connect at the airport, make their acquaintances and rent a vehicle for the drive to Abbotsford. They arrive at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium at 4:30 p.m., three hours before they will step onto stage before an audience. Andreas Klein has been here practicing for several hours for the part of the program he will perform alone. Now they must rehearse the Bach concerto they will play jointly and then what the quartet will perform alone. Either it will work or it won’t.
It works. It works in a way that thrills not only the listeners but the performers as well. The audience, which has been given a thumbnail sketch of the circumstances, ignores classical music concert etiquette and breaks into spontaneous applause after the first movement of the
Mendelssohn string quartet. At the intermission, Luc Beauchemin asks the evening’s MC to ignore his own prohibition of photography in the hall to take a picture of the group on stage. He is already thrilled to be part of this musical experience.
But even more than this standard blurry concert photo, there is another photo that tells the real story of the magic that happened in Abbotsford on October 24, 2014. Luc, Rebecca, and cellist Matthias Diener huddle together taking a selfie in the dressing room mirror while, in the foreground, a viola case lies open, framed by violinist Ulrich Isfort and Andreas Klein with sheet music, water bottles and coffee cups scattered about. The joy and the camaraderie is palpable.
After the concert has ended, after the audience has communicated its enthusiasm with an ovation that brings the performers back for a second and a third bow and with appreciative comments exchanged on the way out through the foyer, and after only a handful of people are left putting away the last chairs and gathering up the posters, the musicians are in the foyer having changed into street clothes.
Ulrich relates the desperate efforts that were made to get Aroa into the country, Matthias talks of the honour they feel at having been able to make music with one of Canada’s premier violists, and Luc cannot say enough about how thrilled he was to work with these artists. He later emails the photo and adds the words, “…special thank you for having me playing with the Minguets tonight; believe me if I tell you that it was unforgettable for me!” This from someone who is friends with another Canadian musical legend, Bernard Labadie, and has played with many other very distinguished musicians.
That was the real magic. It happened in a few brief hours. It happened to the five people at the heart of the evening. It was that magic that communicated itself to the audience and swept them up in a collective sense of rapture. It was that magic that bubbled over in the interactions between people who had known each other for only an afternoon.
And then it is over. They carry their instruments out the door making plans to meet over something to eat at Original Joe’s just around the corner. But it is not over entirely, because the magic will live on in a fashion. They will remember. And we will remember. And we will never be quite the same.
The next Valley Concert Series performance is Les Violins du Roy on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium starting at 7:30 p.m. A pre-concert talk takes place at 6:50 p.m. in foyer. For more information, visit valleyconcertsociety.com